Carolyn Strickland Interview
My name is Carolyn May Strickland and I live in Montgomery, Alabama. I’m not originally from anywhere because my parents were Air Force and I went to 10 different schools by the time I graduated from high school! I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a background in developmental pediatrics, autism, and child/adolescent psychiatry, and I currently work part-time in the field of adoption. I am also a fitness instructor with our local YMCA, teaching 7 or 8 classes a week. I went vegan in June of 2009 after reading the books Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. Prior to going vegan in 2009, I had not eaten any red meat in 30 years, but still ate chicken, fish, and eggs. I guess I started out being an ethical vegan, but after reading and learning more about the health benefits and the impact on the environment, I am vegan for my own health, the health of the planet, and for the animals!
Did you notice any changes going plant-based?
Definitely! I weigh 30 pounds less than I used to and have much more muscle strength. If you had told me when I was in my 20s or 30s that I would be a fitness instructor in my 50s I wouldn’t have believed you! I have much more focus, stamina, and energy now than I did 20 years ago! I also had numerous gastrointestinal issues prior to going plant-based and they have cleared up entirely.
Who inspires/inspired you with cooking?
When I was a small child, my mother told me, “You are what you eat.” I was confused at the time (and a bit intrigued!), but now understand that every bite we eat becomes a part of us and can have a huge impact on us in the short term and the long term. My mother is a great cook and taught me what she knew whenever she could get me to stop long enough to listen. I was responsible for cooking one meal a week for our family from the age of 8! There were a few fiascos, but they became learning experiences. I am happy to say that my mother is now eating a much more plant-centered diet due to my influence!
What is your ultimate goal/dream for your cooking?
Since becoming vegan/plant-based in 2009, I have noticed a slow but steady cultural shift toward the acceptance of the terms “vegan” and “plant-based.” Fewer people roll their eyes at those terms and the terms have become more a part of the mainstream. I hope to influence enough people in my community toward this lifestyle that it becomes normal to see vegan/plant-based options at every restaurant - and maybe see more totally vegan restaurants in my area (we currently have one - and it just opened in May 2020!). In my classes, I focus not only on what a plant-based diet can do for our physical health, but for our mental health. As a therapist, I know there are many emotional reasons that influence the choices people make in eating, so I address those in my classes as well. Ultimately, I have the goal and dream that pushing my community more toward a plant-based lifestyle will have the outcome of seeing vastly improved physical and emotional health, with fewer hospitalizations and healthcare dollars spent for things that could have been prevented.
What tips would you give to other people wanting to get started on plant-based cooking?
Take advantage of the multitude of resources available to you! Over the last decade, there has been enormous growth in the plant-based community and the resources available in the form of websites, books, podcasts, movies, classes, and conferences. Just googling “plant-based recipes” will get you more information than you can handle! One of the best things I did was take a knife skills class for chefs. Of course, the best advice I can give is to locate your nearest PCRM Food for Life instructor and reach out to them. They are happy to help!